Jul 102020

Listening vs. hearing

listening
Sunday’s readings challenge us to not only hear to the message of the Gospel, but to listen to it. Many people do not understand the difference between listening and hearing.
 
We hear people tell us things every day. We perceive the noise and acknowledge that we are being spoken to. I find that more times than not, we do not actually listen to what is being said. To listen to something means that we hear what is said and process and/or keep the information contained in the words spoken.
 
Often we are like the seeds that are sown on the rocky ground. We hear what is said and discard it immediately. We do nothing to keep the information or actually process it. Other times we hear and keep the information for a short time only to have it choked out by other bits of information. Those times are like the seeds in the thorns. We become distracted and busy and the information or wisdom imparted to us gets drowned out.
 
When we actually take time to process and keep the information we received, then we are like the seeds that fell on good ground. We can use that information to make ourselves better people and to make the world around us better.
 
I hope that you will continue to support our blessing bag ministry and our parish so that we can continue to spread the seeds of love and compassion to the community around us.
Jun 192020

Christian moderates and racism

It is a sad commentary on our society that we must still discuss the rise of racism and bigotry in 2020. I doubt that Dr. King believed that it would take this long for things in our nation to change. Frederick Douglas and Harriett Tubman likely thought that by this point in history racism would be a thing of the past.

Yet, we continue to fight for equality and justice for people of color. Dr. King in his Letter from the Birmingham Jail wrote: ” Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. Never again can we afford to live with the narrow, provincial “outside agitator” idea. Anyone who lives inside the United States can never be considered an outsider anywhere within its bounds.”

Even today, injustice continues to thrive everywhere. Our family and friends marching for equality and justice are routinely called “outside agitators”. And people who came to this nation as children are considered outsiders.

Dr. King continued from his jail cell: ” I must make two honest confessions to you, my Christian and Jewish brothers. First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom…”

This week I fought against the same moderates in the church that Dr. King referred to. Our parish and our denomination (the Old Catholic Churches International) continues to raise our voices and use our privilege to call for real and meaningful change. However, many of our fellow Christians continue to call for people to sit down and keep quiet. They call on people to wait just a little bit longer for equality.

How much longer must our beloved wait for equality? How much longer will they be denied justice?

Today we honor Juneteenth. This day hearkens back to June 19, 1865, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation when Major General Gordon Granger landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. It took 2 1/2 years for the word of freedom to finally reach all those kept in captivity! We stand 155 years later and moderate Christians are still calling for our beloved family and friends to wait just a little bit longer for equality and justice.

Enough is enough. Now is the time. Today is the day of liberation. We can no longer call for people of color to sit down and be patient. We must lock arms with them and march toward the promised land. It is our sacred duty to support them and to use our platform of privilege to demand their equal rights and justice.

And one the ways we do that is by calling out racism and bigotry wherever and whenever it exists. Even when it is white privilege that raises its head to oppress our beloved friends and family. We must not be afraid to call out those who demand that those marching sit down or find other means of protest. And we must also not be afraid to call out those who claim the victims of police violence are somehow in the wrong and deserved their fate.

No longer can the church remain silent on the issue of race. Because to do so is to be complicit in the murder of our family and friends of color. While many Christians and many churches have come a long way, we all still have a long way to go.

Join me in this struggle for equality. Join me in standing with our family and friends yearning to be truly equal and free!

Fr. Greg

Jun 052020

Fighting hatred and racism with love

Say no to racism

I am saddened and dismayed at the amount of hatred and division that exists in our world today. Many people are standing up to violence and racism in our world. Others are content to allow things to remain as they have always been. And others are indifferent to either viewpoint.

Even sadder is the fights that are occurring within each faction. There are those who feel we are not doing enough to combat racism, bigotry and hatred. Other feel that we must only work with, love or support those we agree with 100%. And still others feel we have all gone too far.

Jesus was a radical protester. He stood up to oppression, hatred and bigotry. A prime example of this was the story of the Samaritan woman. We read in John 4:9, “The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” Jesus was friends with the outcasts of society. He spent time with tax collectors, prostitutes and the Samaritans. He shattered their ideas of social class, racism and bigotry.

And yes, he even flipped over a few tables and whipped a few people. Yet, he loved them all. Even those who crucified him. From the cross he cried for God to forgive those who murdered him. He begged for their immortal souls even as he drew his last breath. He left us an example of how we ought to live.

Jesus wants us to stand up for the defenseless and the downtrodden. He also wants us to love one another. Saint Paul encourages us all to, “Mend your ways, encourage one another, agree with one another, live in peace, and the God of love and peace will be with you. Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (2 Corinthians 13:11-12)

Today, as we stand against racism, bigotry, hatred and division, let us not forget to love one another. Love those standing shoulder to shoulder with us. And love those standing on the other side of each issue. Pray for our own conversion of heart as well as theirs.

Won’t you join me as I struggle to walk this path as well?

May 152020

Despite attacks we continue to serve

attacks

Yesterday I received one of those messages that make me cringe as a pastor. It came from a person who likes to tell everyone how much experience they have. They also feel the need to put down everyone around them for not being as smart as they are. They attack those who are actually doing the work of ministry instead of assisting in ministry.

As a pastor, I have learned to ignore most of these messages. I understand the pain they are carrying and the damage that has been done to them that causes them to act in such a way. Despite their vitriolic behavior, I continue to lift them in prayer and hope and pray they find peace.

As catholic Christians it is our calling to pray for those who persecute us. Even those who claim to be our relatives who do not or cannot see our value. And those who wish to do us harm because they are jealous of our success or our willingness to answer the call of the Gospel. We shake the dust from our sandals, pray for them to find peace, and move on down the spiritual path we are on.

Here at Saint Francis Parish, we may never be a mega church like the ones you see on Youtube or television. We may never have the size of ministries and outreaches as many of the churches around us. But what we do have is a huge love for one another and the willingness to help those who need it most.

We are a safe-haven in the storms of life. Our doors are open for all those hurt by other churches. We welcome and support those thrown away by the other churches. It does not matter why those churches sent you away. You are welcome here!

We love everyone without inquiring about whether they are worthy of love or not. Everyone deserves love and the support necessary to be the best version of themselves! That may not be the kind the message that will cause us to grow into a mega-church. Yet, it is the message that the Gospel proclaims.

It is my hope that you will join us by Livestream Sunday and eventually in person to discover an entirely different way to be catholic!

May 092020

Yes, we are catholic!

catholic

I want to first apologize for not blogging in a while. I will admit that life has been rather hectic and in some ways depressing. However, I am back. And for my first blog in a while, I want to talk about being catholic.

There are close to 30 different catholic (note the small c) churches of which the Old Catholic, Roman Catholic, Episcopalian, Anglican and various Orthodox churches are a part of. To most of them, catholicism means that their clergy have Apostolic Succession and they have valid sacraments. They may not always agree on liturgy or various doctrinal matters, but they remain catholic.

Sadly, there are those who claim that unless a person is their version of catholic, that they have no right to call themselves catholic. This could not be further from the truth. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church, which tends to be the most hard-line when it comes to who they consider catholic, has said that there are catholics not under Rome’s authority. In 2000, (Saint) Pope John Paul II even enshrined this doctrine in his encyclical called Dominus Iesus. Cardinal Ratzinger (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI) signed this document as well stating that it was not in error and making it an infallible teaching for those in the Roman Catholic Church.

Here is what (Saint) Pope John Paul II said, “The Churches which, while not existing in perfect communion with the [Roman] Catholic Church, remain united to her by means of the closest bonds, that is, by apostolic succession and a valid Eucharist, are true particular Churches…Therefore, these separated Churches and communities as such … have by no means been deprived of significance and importance in the mystery of salvation. For the Spirit of Christ has not refrained from using them as means of salvation which derive their efficacy from the very fullness of grace and truth entrusted to the Catholic Church.” (IV. Unicity and Unity of the Church, 17)

Regardless of what these other catholic church may say, Saint Francis Parish and our clergy and parishioners are catholic. We are not Roman Catholic or Orthodox and have not claimed to be such. Our sacraments are valid and open to all who wish to receive them.

You see, the Old Catholic Church has been around since 1145 AD, a mere 91 years after the Great Schism that created the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches. We have our own polity and piety that has been formed in the years since.

As Old Catholics, we have married and LGBTQI clergy. We offer an open communion to anyone who wish to receive the Blessed Sacrament. Divorced, LGBTQI, people of all nationalities and past experiences are welcome in our parish and welcome to partake in our sacraments. We welcome and love all people.

And hopefully, when we can once again meet in person, you will join us and experience a different way to be catholic!

Apr 292020

Reaching out during our dark night of the soul

reaching out

I was reminded of a simple yet difficult fact of life last night. And it came in a way that left a great impact on me. It will come as no shock to those who know me well, but I have been really struggling lately. I try to hide it, but I have been very depressed and in a very dark place. And reaching out to others when I depressed is not my strong suit.

Last night, my brave and in-control facade fell for a few minutes and I had to have a very candid talk with my family about my struggles. My future daughter-in-law looked at me and said, “Dad, how can we support you if we don’t know you are struggling? We can’t read your mind.” She was right.

I have lived with the feeling that is not right to share my struggle with those under me. Right or wrong, it has always felt wrong to reach out to them for help. And many of my fellow clergy feel the same way. Sadly, this is the thought process that leads to clergy killing themselves instead of asking for support.

I am not going to be part of that crowd anymore. To suffer alone is wrong. Especially when I have people around me who really do care about me. And to you, clergy and laity alike, I echo that message. There are people all around you who love you and want to support you. All you have to do is ask. Reaching out for support is not a bad thing.

Because we cannot read your mind either.

During this pandemic it is easy to loose sight of the support network that is all around you. We are asked to “social distance” from everyone. This is a terrible term and gives the impression, whether we are conscience of it or not, that we should not even talk to each other. However, we are really only asked to physically distance from one another. We can be as social with each other as we want!

Today I am reaching out to ask you for your help. I need people to talk to. Even if it is only for a few minutes a couple of times a week. I need people who are willing to just sit with me when I am hurting, without judgement and without trying to “fix” me.

I promise that I will also be here for you when you need to talk. And I will not judge you, nor will I try to fix you. Instead, I will be here to walk with you along this journey through all the darkness into the blessed light that will come.

Because no pandemic last forever.

And in your dark moments, I want you to know: God loves you and so do I!

One last thing before I end this rambling blog. Can you please send us photos of you and/or your family? We would really like to tape them to our pews so that when we are celebrating Mass we can look out and see your smiling faces. You do not have to be a regular member of our parish to participate. If you follow us on Facebook, watch our Masses online, or just stumbled across us today, we would still like to include you in our Virtual Congregation. You can send your photos to fathergreg@oursaintfrancis.org.

God bless you all!

Father Greg

Mar 132020

Faith and science are not at odds

Our world is currently in the grip of fear over the COVID-19 virus. So many people have decided that they wish to spread misinformation or ignore the facts. This is a symptom of a much greater problem in our world.

We have given in the to what many people are now calling a “post-truth” society. Facts, science, reason no longer have any standing in our discourse. Even when those facts could save lives and help better society, they choose to ignore them. And if anyone challenges their world view or their beliefs, they lash out and attack.

Such attacks on reason and fact hurt us as Christians in ways no one fully appreciates. Saint Augustine of Hippo in the Literal Meaning of Genesis says the following:

“Usually, even a non-Christian knows something about the earth, the heavens, and the other elements of the world, about the motion and orbit of the stars and even their size and relative positions, about the predictable eclipses of the sun and moon, the cycles of the years and the seasons, about the kinds of animals, shrubs, stones, and so forth, and this knowledge he holds to as being certain from reason and experience. Now, it is a disgraceful and dangerous thing for an infidel to hear a Christian, presumably giving the meaning of Holy Scripture, talking nonsense on these topics; and we should take all means to prevent such an embarrassing situation, in which people show up vast ignorance in a Christian and laugh it to scorn. The shame is not so much that an ignorant individual is derided, but that people outside the household of faith think our sacred writers held such opinions, and, to the great loss of those for whose salvation we toil, the writers of our Scripture are criticized and rejected as unlearned men. If they find a Christian mistaken in a field which they themselves know well and hear him maintaining his foolish opinions about our books, how are they going to believe those books in matters concerning the resurrection of the dead, the hope of eternal life, and the kingdom of heaven, when they think their pages are full of falsehoods on facts which they themselves have learnt from experience and the light of reason? Reckless and incompetent expounders of Holy Scripture bring untold trouble and sorrow on their wiser brethren when they are caught in one of their mischievous false opinions and are taken to task by those who are not bound by the authority of our sacred books. For then, to defend their utterly foolish and obviously untrue statements, they will try to call upon Holy Scripture for proof and even recite from memory many passages which they think support their position, although they understand neither what they say nor the things about which they make assertion.”

The church for far too long stood against the use of reason and science. It believed that they stood in opposition to faith. However, we now understand that faith and science, faith and reason, do not have to be opposed to one another. They can co-exist and it does not diminish God at all. In fact, many catholic saints like Saint Albert the Great were scientist in their own right. Their faith and the use of reason helped them to make discoveries that benefited all of mankind.

Today, we as a church use our faith and science to help make the world a better place. We do not just sit back and pray for the betterment of all. We actually go out into the world and help those in most need. This is also why we heed the advice of scientist when it comes to the spread of infections and viruses. So when you see the changes we have made as a result of the COVID-19 virus threat, you know that we are doing it to protect our parish family from a very nasty illness.

Just because we accept scientific facts does not mean that we do not pray. And so as we work to stop the spread of the virus, let us also pray for those infected and those at risk of becoming infected.

Blessings!

Fr. Greg

Mar 062020

Our community is a family

community

It is easy to focus on the negative in life. Everyday the news helps us bury ourselves in negativity by bringing us one bad piece of news after another. And during Lent, we are so focused on our shortcomings and failings that we tend to buy into the negativity. So for just a moment, I want to look at some positive things. And our continuing message of community building is just what we need.

Lent is a great time to resolve to deepen our commitment to the church and to our faith. So many people today refuse to come to church because of past bad experiences in church. Others feel there is no need to go to church because it is just full of hypocrites. In that logic, you would never go out to a restaurant because people get sick eating out and some even die from the food served to them. You would never go to the movies because people have been hurt at movies. I might never sleep again simply because I had a bad dream.

Focusing on the negative and painful parts of our lives leave us stuck in a rut that we find it hard to get out of. It also helps to cut us off from others who have been through those experiences. Those same people can help us navigate our own path thru the pain and hurt.

I am not absolving the church of its responsibility for the pain it causes people. Rather, I am saying that not all churches are created equally. Our church is born out of the pain, abuse and mistreatment many of us suffered at the hands of mainstream churches. We work to be better than those churches by treating everyone as we would want to be treated. Our focus as a parish and as part of a larger national church is to help those who have been abused and to stop the cycle of abuse.

This Saturday evening, our parish will be offering the Stations of the Cross. However, it is not your typical Stations. It is a version of the Stations of the Cross that focuses on the plight of the immigrants and migrants in our communities. It looks that what they experience when they are forced to leave their homes because of war, famine or violence.

We continue to build our Blessing Bags and distribute them to the homeless in our community. The Blessing Bags are made with love and care so that those who need them most not only get the supplies they need, but they also know they are loved by someone.

And we continue to welcome everyone into our parish without reservation. It is our mission to build a safe space for everyone. This is especially true for those who have been mistreated or abused. We welcome, accept and affirm everyone regardless of who you are, what you look like, who you love, what religion you come from, what your nationality is, or what language you speak. It does not matter if you are rich, poor, or something in between.

Here at Saint Francis, everyone is equal and everyone is part of our family and our community. You need only come and experience a radically inclusive and affirming way to be Catholic!

Feb 282020

Finding real grace during Lent

grace

This afternoon I watched an independent film titled Anesthesia. It featured one of my favorite actors, Sam Waterson. If you wish to see it, you can on Hulu right now. The movie has a rather interesting arch and it seems that no two people get the same message out of it. As I watched it, I was struck by one message that rang out loud and clear to me during this start of Lent: we all look for ways to avoid pain and suffering. In other words, we look for cheap grace.

Many of the characters turned to alcohol, sex, self-harm, and drugs to avoid the pain and suffering in their lives. They found themselves self-medicating to avoid facing the reality around them and further to avoid having to change their lives. It is always easier, at least in our minds, to avoid changing than it is to face our past, present or future with the resolve necessary to improve.

Lent calls us to take a hard look at our lives and to fix those things wrong within us. As I say over and over again, it is not just about fish on Friday’s. It is about real soul searching and real change. We are called to set aside our vices and replace them with virtues. It is about helping those around us and helping to change society.

I understand all too well the mess the world is in. I see it everyday in the faces of the sick and dying as well as the students and young people I meet at school. We all fear for the future and at times are paralyzed by the sheer magnitude of the mess before us. Yet, we cannot sit by and do nothing.

The Rev. Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book The Cost of Discipleship said, “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline, Communion without confession…. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ, living and incarnate.” Bonhoeffer wrote this words in 1937 in Germany at the start of the atrocities of World War II.

Far too often we as Christians look for the route of “cheap grace” not just during Lent, but throughout our Christian lives. This Lent I challenge you to avoid “cheap grace” and focus on real change. Real repentance requires not just a hard look in the mirror but also a decision to make a complete turn from our sins and vices.

Join me on this path toward repentance and away from denial of who we are. Come and experience real grace this Lent!